Eliminate ‘essential movement’ for suspects on electronic monitoring

Since last year, 129 people on electronic monitoring were rearrested while on furlough days that allow for free movement without constant monitoring. ‘Essential movement’ is a dangerous gamble. Sheriff Tom Dart plans to ask lawmakers to get rid of it.

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks to a reporter about the Mary Agnus Moroney case at the Cook County Sheriff Police building, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023 in Maywood Ill. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The number of criminal suspects who are rearrested while on electronic monitoring in Cook County is, relatively speaking, low. But here in Chicago, where gun violence is a constant, eliminating unnecessary risk is critical.

We’re with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on eliminating the risk by scrapping the furloughs now allowed as part of the electronic monitoring program.

Between Jan. 1, 2022 and the first of May of this year, 129 people were rearrested while on electronic monitoring. Yes, that’s a small number compared directly to the thousands of people placed on monitoring every year. But it breaks down to eight people per month, or about two people per week, who have been rearrested during the past 16 months while on their “essential movement” days — two weekly 8-hour periods when criminal suspects fitted with tracking devices are allowed to move about without constant supervision.

Of those 129, 29 were re-arrested for gun-related offenses. And there was at least one incident in which someone got hurt: An off-duty Chicago police officer accosted with a pointed gun responded by firing and struck the gunman’s companion, the Sun-Times’ Frank Main reported this past weekend.

Editorial

Editorial

Why take the risk? Chicago can’t afford the dangerous and senseless gamble to cut back on the observation of suspects in the understaffed monitoring program, as the editorial board pointed out last year.

So we’re once again throwing our support to Dart, who plans to ask the Illinois General Assembly to scrap the essential movement privilege outlined in the Illinois Pretrial Fairness Act.

The act, which is being challenge on constitutional grounds over its provision to get rid of cash bail altogether, includes reforms to the justice system that were a long time coming and way overdue. There is no argument on that point. But Chicago and Cook County must also be pragmatic.

Men and women placed on electronic monitoring need to run errands, take care of their families, go to doctors’ appointments or undergo treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. No question those are essential activities.

But if a judge can grant them the ability to do so in most cases, where’s the need for automatically allowing free time without being under the watchful eye of the sheriff’s department personnel?

An imperfect system

Electronic monitoring is far from perfect.

The rules can be vague. Just last month, Dart’s office was called out for its “ambiguity” on restrictions in an Illinois appellate court ruling. In response, the sheriff tightened its restrictions for apartment dwellers who are on electronic monitoring, preventing them from activities like grabbing their mail and doing laundry in the buildings’ common spaces, WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell reported recently.

“Electronic surveillance is not an alternative to incarceration, it’s an alternative form of incarceration,” reads the introduction to a 2021 report from George Washington University Law School that highlighted hazy guidelines and unrealistic restrictions, among other shortcomings of monitoring programs.

So while some advocates might disagree, jail is still the harsher option. Most criminal suspects, we think, would rather not be locked up.

Reduce repeat gun crimes

The Cook County Public Defender’s office has vowed to defend “essential movement” rights when Dart goes before state lawmakers to request that they be repealed.

But lawmakers shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the growing number of criminal defendants — especially those re-arrested for another gun offense — who are placed on electronic monitoring. The safety risks are clear.

There was a time when electronic monitoring was only an option for those who were charged with committing nonviolent crimes. Now, even people charged with murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery can be placed on it, Dart said.

The sheriff’s records show that those who were arrested for gun-related crimes away from their homes had initially been put on electronic monitoring for other gun-related charges.

If the goal is to reduce crime — gun violence in particular — lawmakers should give Dart’s office the power it needs, and scrap automatic essential movement for electronic monitoring.

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